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Saturday, 11 June 2011

A Change of Scene

Kids from the Taonga Market school in Cheelo“SHUTTTIT!” I holler at the noisy pack of boys whose voices have been steadily rising as I explain something to a small group of three. Echoes of “shhhh” and “quiet” reverberate around the classroom until eventually there is a sort of silence. Ah days of school, how I used to hate them, with a passion! Now though things are a little different and I am the one trying to imbue knowledge into these kids brains.

As of a few weeks ago I have started teaching at the boys secondary school, one of the most prestigious schools in Zambia. I am teaching extracurricular mathematics to twenty grade 8 boys. These kids are struggling with maths and it’s my mission to de-stigmatise and de-mystify some of the ingrained perplexity they have. Maths is a regular pain-point here and many people are unable to do even basic mathematics which is a shame because basic maths, in my humble opinion, is rather easy and dare I say even fun because it means solving problems in logical ways (spot the computer geek). So I am trying to make the classes as fun as possible while still maintaining a modicum of control.

I’ve discovered though that when kids are afraid, they absorb very little. I have one little fellow who practically shivers with fear when I approach and ask if he understands. His voice is lower than a mouse’s squeak and when he says an inaudible no, you can see he is expecting retribution for not understanding. My heart goes out to the poor kid. That someone along the way has managed to instilled such fear into him is a real pity because there will also be many more like him in the years to come. I am doing my best to reassure him that it’s ok if you don’t understand but he needs to let me help and not be so afraid. I sense an uphill struggle but at least the class size means that I can give kids like him more individual help and the boy next to him usually leans in to listen and then when I leave helps his friend to better understand.

It Fiona, one of the Mukanzubo dancersturns out that teaching is good fun and quite rewarding. The boys are happy to be given an opportunity to improve their grades and seem on the whole to work hard, at least during class. I have tried to make the atmosphere as relaxed as possible so that the maths doesn’t seem so scary. I am going for the knowledgeable (but cool) older brother approach rather than the formal teacher approach. Amusingly, this relaxed atmosphere did result in two boys falling asleep the other day, which perhaps points to a need to not make it too relaxed. Memories of an infamous ex-colleague falling asleep at his desk resulting in his head smacking the keyboard came flooding back. I am also revelling in the change of scene as it gives me a wider ranging experience here. I only hope that I am making a difference to the weaker kids. Their exam results at the end of term will be the best indicator of that I think.

Your teacher in the middle of nowhere

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